Moroccan Western-style street food

Treading Through Rabat in Worn Sneakers

Reading Time: 3 minutes
The term “third world country” initially described countries affiliated with neither the United States nor the Soviet Union during the Cold War. “Second world countries” allied with the Soviets and “first world countries” allied with the U.S. For this reason, the term “second world” has today gone out of use, while the “third world”—which consisted of mostly poor countries during the era—has been conflated on a worldwide basis to describe less economically and politically strong countries.

Linguists may argue that the generational shift in the usage of “third world” constructs a dictionary synonym of “developing country”. Regardless, either term prescribes some kind of inferiority to a country that is “developing”.

Yet, many “developing” countries have consistently been ranked above “developed” countries on the World Happiness Index. Though it thinks highly of itself as the “best country in the world”, the United States has yet to crack the top 10 of the index since its 2012 inception. Experiencing Morocco illustrates how these designations produce misconceptions—the “third world” seems some backward place that would be hazardous to visit, yet tourists often hail Morocco as remarkably like Western Europe.

Except for a language barrier, I have in many ways not left home. I don long trousers in place of summer shorts but share the street with skinny jeans. I skimp makeup in favor of convenience but stare into faces equally choosing between either. I navigate small Old Medina alleys to the city tram but commute much more hygienically than I have on New York City subways (although this isn’t much of a comparison!).

Western culture does not imply virtuosity. Nevertheless, the most familiar culture is the most comfortable one. New sneakers require time to break in, but I have found worn and loved sneakers.

Rabat after sundown
Rabat is a cool, maritime breeze after sundown. I feel like I am editing a vacation brochure.

These first few days fly quickly. School, a bus trip and outings with friends leave me just enough time to cuddle with my pillow and doze away traveler’s fatigue. Henna, the Chellah ruins (pronounced Shell-ah; this is a French transliteration, in which “Ch” is pronounced like the English “Sh”) and a new food routine remind me of a rich, long heritage novel to me; patates (a French loan-word), an entire row of pizza shops down the souk alley and the international Mawazine Festival in town (with artists including Wiz Khalifa, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato this year) remind me of home.

Moroccan henna
My Moroccan host sister paints henna flowers on my hands for me. The vibrant orange-red further warms my quickly tanning skin.
Moroccan Western-style street food
The Levantine-style falafel sandwich I hoped might be tasty did not nearly compare to pizza and patates (fries).
Mawazine African Stage
The Mawazine is a music festival that visits Rabat for a week each summer. The festival boasts local and international artists sprawled across several regionally-themed stages, where children and adults alike attend performances each night. This, the African Stage, and the French Stage are both near to my residence.

Language accosts with me with my foreignness when I open my mouth, but I never considered cultural comfortableness could accompany me across continents.

In hindsight, I should have expected it. Morocco is, after all, an intersection between cultural frontiers.

From the Chellah ruins:

The Chellah ruins are the remains of ancient architecture that housed Phoenician, Roman and Islamic society at different eras. Roman arches, Islamic geometry and stork nests (these buildings are still being reappropriated as homes!) sit as remnants of different times. (The prominent Islamic tower is a “minaret”, from which a call to prayer would be made five times a day in ancient society.) Morocco is a cultural intersection today, but different civilizations harmonizing is not a new phenomenon.

My school takes us here in a little van—perfect for me, so as to relieve me of the linguistic burdens of travel. Soon, I hope, I will be able to understand language here for myself.

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